Memorial Day: Why We Fight


The world is different than it was even a few years ago as we celebrate Memorial Day.
We now are fighting a war, and we now remember why we fight. The History Channel 
recently re-ran the HBO series "Band of Brothers," the adaptation of the Stephen 
Ambrose book about a company of men from the landing at Normandy through the end
of the World War II.

During WWII my father crossed paths a couple of times with the Company E
mentioned in "Band of Brothers". Once at the Battle of the Bulge and later while
liberating the death camp Dachau. 

My father's story is told in part on HBO's website about the episode on
the liberation of Dachau at: http://www.hbo.com/band/landing/why_we_fight.html.
The full story is told in pictures at http://www.billpetro.com/johnpetro.

He rarely volunteered to me information, but when I did asked, he would answer.
He left me pictures taken during the liberation of Dachau. I still have these
pictures of those who survived, who looked like skeletons. I also have pictures
of the skeletons of those who did not survive, of the open boxcars with
bodies piled high.

My father had seen a lot of action during the war and later was in
charge of three P.O.W. camps for German prisoners, but nothing prepared
him for what he saw at Dachau. He said that he watched his commanders vomit
when they saw the camps. Those who were liberated were like the dead,
they could not believe that they were finally being freed.

These gruesome images must never be forgotten. It must never be
forgotten what barbarism that man is capable of committing toward
fellow men.  But some may say, "I don't want to think about it, surely
no one believes that these atrocities were justified, that they'd ever
be repeated."  But only a couple of decades ago, an organization asked
to use University of California conference grounds property for a
meeting. This request was later denied when it was learned that the
organization requesting the facilities believed that the Holocaust was
a hoax, that it did not really occur. There was also a corresponding
outcry that this organizations' free speech rights were being violated.

A person who remembers the past can be grateful for the freedoms that
were purchased at great cost by those who went before them. They can
memorialize those who fought and died, they can honor those against
whom horrors were committed.  A person without this sense of history is
a severed person, self-referential, cut off from the past.

On this Memorial Day, the words of George Santayana, Harvard
philosopher and poet are most apt: 

"Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."

        Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
        www.billpetro.com/johnpetro